Wednesday 23 January 2013

Nanny's drinking problem

Christian Kerr wonders about the Australian public health lobby.
In May 2011 the Cancer Council released a position statement that warned "any level of alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer." Last March chief executive Ian Olver baldly stated "the risks from alcohol start from zero consumption upwards". Just days ago the council, Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation launched an advertising campaign pushing for a tax on soft drinks and advertising restrictions.

"They're deliberately replicating the tobacco campaign," one source says. "Their latest target is alcohol, with their secondary target obesity. They're trying to do so in a way to keep the alcohol industry out of the debate by trying to say anything that the alcohol industry touches is corrupt."
The source is not a lobbyist for the liquor companies. Instead, this individual is a former senior Labor Party figure who helped develop some of the most influential anti-smoking and other public health campaigns Australia has seen.
After saying a few nice words about my work on Australian social cost figures, he wonders why dodgy numbers get produced.
Why do the activists play this game? There is considerable public funding and academic prestige at stake. Small and often overlapping teams of researchers at the University of Sydney received well over $2 million for projects beginning between 2009 and last year looking at smoking, "What is influential public health research" and "Corporate influences on media reporting of health".
Sydney and two other unnamed institutions were awarded just under $2m for a project not only aiming to improve "media literacy" but also "the potency of policy advocacy among health professionals". Industry also charges an ideological element is involved.
"The Australian preventative health industry regards itself as the medical wing of the progressive left movement," one long-serving industry figure says.
Those grants typically come from government agencies and so cannot possibly influence the work that gets done.

And, again, what crisis?
Last May the Australian Bureau of Statistics said our apparent per capita drinking peaked at 13.1 litres of pure alcohol a person in 1974-75, remained relatively steady for the next five to 10 years, then fell over the following decade, to 9.8 litres a person in 1995-96.
Consumption gradually rose to 10.6 litres in 2006-07 and 2007-08, but fell to 10.0 litres of pure alcohol a person in 2010-11.
In October the Bureau also reported "Australians are . . . drinking less, with a drop of 1.4 percentage points in the number of people drinking more than two standard drinks on average per day."
One alcohol industry figure flings a particularly sharp barb at the anti-alcohol brigade off the back of these figures.
"These people are the climate change deniers of the health sector," he says.
Read the whole thing....

HT: Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy Files; Simon Grose. Thanks!

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